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March 17, 2020
ConferenceIndustry TrendsShipbuildingTechnology

Last week, I went to the ABCMI Innovation Day which brought together innovators, incubators and funding agencies with the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) and the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN). This is an important event for shipbuilding in Canada thanks to some major programs and government investments in building new future ships and updating, modernizing and extending the current fleet. With so many new technologies and possibilities it is hard to keep up to date and find a signal among all the noise.

There were many great presentations from the RCN, CCG and many other innovative companies. I will touch on just some of the key items that I took away from the conference.

1. Canadian Digital Vision is Maturing Rapidly

The most exciting take away I had was how much the industry, CCG and RCN have matured in their understanding of the new digital age from just a year ago. Last year, the conversations were more in the spirit of discovery and trying to figure out “what does this new digital world actually mean?” This year, there is a much clearer vision with some good initial strategies for the start of their journey. Within the last year, there have been several great documents published that articulate their vision and action plan very well. This is helping align all the stakeholders on a common goal. Here are some of the documents:

Data Strategy

Digital Navy: A Strategy to Enable Canada’s Naval Team for the Digital Age

Digital Navy: Action Plan

2. People, Culture, Mindset

As you know that I am a huge believer that people, culture and mindset are the cornerstone of any successful digital transformation (and I have blogged about it before). Luckily, it was a clear and common thread through almost all of the RCN and CCG presentations, starting with RAdm Christopher Earl’s opening remarks and echoed in the follow-on presentations.

Creating a culture of innovation is one of the key aspects getting a lot of focus. It was good to see that they are taking a holistic view and evaluating how they are going to be able to train and instill an innovation mindset in their 1000 new sailors. They are obviously using many innovative technologies such as VR and AR to aid training, but the most innovative thing they are doing is not using technology at all. They are ’innovating’ by looking at ways to better track the activities a sailor does at sea, making it possible to receive ’credit’ for that practical knowledge without the need for a classroom. This will reduce the amount of traditional training required, which takes the sailor out of active duty for virtually no gain.

I am glad to see that there is now a greater appreciation of the importance of people and the needed culture and mindset shifts.The major challenge is transitioning this vision into reality. Others have also recognized the importance of an innovative mindset but failed to execute on it. However, the amount of change I am seeing, even in the last year, suggests they are on the right path.

3. Data – Digital Twin/Thread

In the digital era, data is the new oil. There was a lot of discussion on the importance of managing all this data. The creation of data was not a huge focus, despite still being important. The key challenge we have today is being able to utilize all this digital information as something useful. Getting control of the volume, variety, velocity and veracity of all this information received a lot of attention. Obviously, the digital twin/thread buzzwords were thrown around a bit, but it was more in relation to describing the problem than a solution. This is a sign of digital maturity.

Creating a digital ecosystem that can help manage all this information, and having the ability to use big data analytics, AI, machine learning and data visualization were hot topics for the innovation programs/incubators.

4. New technologies

The breadth of new technologies discussed was very wide-ranging, which I personally always find interesting. Especially when these technologies are being used to solve a real business problem and not a theoretical one. However, also present was  the understanding that ways of innovating quickly and finding strategies that will de-risk technology adoption are needed. This is another sign of their increasing digital maturity.

There is no doubt that the technologies (AI, big data, IoT, AR, VR, material science, 3D printing, etc.) they are looking into and have started to explore are cutting edge (not bleeding edge) innovations. It was also mentioned that they will need to be able to sustain all these technologies and cannot just look at the current benefits. It’s just as important to understand how they will be able to support all these technologies in the future. Again, another sign of their increasing digital maturity.

It was also interesting to learn that every future RCN ship, starting with the soon to be delivered AOPS, will have a 3D printed part.

5. Working with Industry

The RCN and the CCG are doing a really good job working with industry, academia and government programs, as well as with allied nations. This has no doubt contributed to their very strong digital maturity growth in the last year.

There is a strong focus on building the Canadian industry and trying to have Canada be a strong innovation country; however, there is still opennes to working with non-Canadian companies.

I was amazed at the number of avenues there are for innovation funding. There were several presented and even more that were mentioned. To be honest, I do not have a good handle on all of these programs (which is one action item I am taking away from this conference). I did get the feeling that there is a lot of potential overlap between these programs – I am not sure if this is bad or good. If anyone has a cheat sheet that they would like to share, I and my readers would really appreciate it.

 Closing Remarks

The ABCMI Innovation Day was a great event that brought some very smart people together to discuss some real and tough challenges.

I have seen a tremendous increase in the understanding and digital maturity level within the Canadian government and industry. Some of the activities I have seen that have contributed to this are:

  1. A definition of a clear vision and the strategies to achieve it. Without a clear vision, it is too easy to get distracted in today’s digital candy world.
  2. Their appreciation of the importance of people and their need for a culture and mindset focused on innovation. They clearly understand the digital world is not just technology, it is just as much people, culture and mindset. This is the cornerstone of any good digital transformation.
  3. Understanding that data is the new oil and they will have to figure out how they will be able to get control of all their digital data in a sustainable way.
  4. Acknowledging that using technology is not the only way to innovate. Thinking differently and tackling a problem from a different direction is innovative and requires no new technologies.
  5. A good and strong engaging community of innovators, incubators and academia.

Even though there has been a lot of progress, they are still only at the beginning of their digital transformation journey. There are going to be many challenges ahead and I look forward to how they will overcome them.

For those looking for additional reading I will reference my blog The Journey in Achieving Excellence in Shipbuilding. Many of the activities that the RCN and CCG are doing successfully and are allowing them to grow their capability very quickly are discussed in more depth.

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